Thursday, August 23, 2012

Catching A Vision, Part 2: The Big Picture Behind the Book

For part one of this series, I talked about the importance of vision in our lives when it comes to fulfilling our callings. Today I want to take things to a more specific level and apply some of these same concepts to each book we’re writing.

Have you ever been in the middle of writing and realized that you no longer really know what your book is about? Sometimes this realization can be frustrating, as we realize we’ve gone down too many rabbit trails and haven’t stayed focused to our key plot points. Other times it can be exciting because we know we’ve stumbled upon an even greater idea than we had originally.

But either way, there’s something about that first draft that’s so disheartening. It’s flat out hard to write, really. Putting the words on the page for the first time can be exhilarating when we get to an exciting scene, but most of the time, it’s painful! The creative side of our brain is flittering to action with different ideas, while the critical side keeps saying, “Uh, you might want to throw in the towel on this one. Have you actually read anything you’ve written so far on this WIP? Because it stinks.” Have you been there? Raising my hand right now because I know I have!

When we face these moments of what I would call the discipline of writing--where it becomes something we stick with because we are committed, even if our first-draft words are kind of terrible—it’s so important to keep our vision in mind, because that’s what keeps us going.

You can either use these bullets as you plot your book, before you even begin writing; or as you edit, working to pull out the most important aspects of what you’ve created. Ultimately, remind yourself that the story God has put on your heart will not write itself. Unless we all sit down consistently and get the words on the page, the only person that story is impacting is ourselves. And that’s a selfish way to use our gifts, really. So here are several ways to help you stay encouraged and keep a big-picture approach to your book, so that on the days you feel like giving up, you can remind yourself why your story rocks, and why you wanted to write it in the first place.

Vision for Ministry
One of the easiest things for me to lose sight of is the spiritual thread of my books, which is ironic because it’s also the most important element to me. It can be so easy to get caught up in the details that we begin to see our WIP’s  as simply a practice for editing. Spend some time daydreaming about your future readers. Imagine it’s your book people are reading on the beach, or the in airport, or in bed at night before they go to sleep. How would this change the way we are writing? Don’t be afraid to allow your calling to empower your writing. That’s the way it’s meant to be.

Vision for Plot and Characters
Sometimes it’s easy to get so fixated on the knitty-gritty that we neglect our characters’ hearts. I know I talk a lot about Robin Jones Gunn’s writing, but one of the reasons I love her so much is because she does this in her stories. She makes readers really care about the characters, so that when they experience transformation in their lives, we experience the same thing. Checking your dialogue tags for repetition and paying attention to what characters are wearing can only go so far if we don’t have a heart for the characters to begin with, and for us to feel that way, we need to really be aware of their big-picture journeys.

Vision for Tone and Voice
God has gifted you with a voice.  In my own writing, I find it so much more difficult to write in my natural voice when I feel shut down for some reason. This is particularly the case if I’ve received some overly-harsh criticism, or if I’ve allowed doubts to flood my mind. Another thing that can affect tone is the fear of what other people will think. Should I wrote an Amish novel, for instance, because those certainly seem to be selling! If we’re not careful, we become more consumed about market than we do about vision. The ironic thing is, most bestsellers actually do so well because they are unique. So be conscious of genre conventions, sure—but don’t write to the market, or you’ll always feel as if you’re missing the mark. If we aren’t writing in our sweet spot when it comes to the voice and tone of our novel, we’ll never really feel as if our vision for the book has been accurately portrayed.

How do you keep your vision for a large project? Do you ever find your vision for a story waning when you begin to feel discouraged?

Ashley Clark writes romantic comedy with southern grace. She's dreamed of being a writer ever since the thumbprint-cookie-days of library story hour. Ashley has an M.A. in English and enjoys teaching literature courses at her local university. She's an active member of ACFW and runs their newcomer's loop. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. You can find Ashley on her personal blogFacebook,Pinterest, and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.


Amy K. Sorrells said...

Super post, and just what I needed today! My current WIP is proving quite a different animal than my previous, and it comes out in fits and starts. God's being gracious to me, when I set it aside for awhile and pray to Him for guidance and for what He has in mind to do with the manuscript once it reaches readers. I love what you say about "taking time to daydream about your readers," too. What I might think is a valuable scene personally might not mean a hill of beans to readers. Add all those things together and more, and indeed, writing is hard! But worth it, in the end. May God bless you and your writing for His Kingdom!

Jeanne T said...

I have to be quick right now, but I loved this post. I find it so easy to get wrapped up in the task of writing that the joy gets squelched. I liked Amy's thoughts, but I also loved what you said about the vision for plot and characters. Discovering my characters' hearts, oh so important. I'm hoping to stop back here later and think more about your questions. :)

Thanks, Ashley!

Becky Doughty said...


What a great post! You nailed it for me today. I've been revising/editing and have been so focused on making it a good story that I forgot the real focus: I want my words to reflect Christ, to draw people to Him in a real and personal way with real and personal characters.

Needed this reminder today.


Lindsay Harrel said...

It's definitely hard to remember what I'm writing about sometimes when I am in the middle of writing a book. I feel like the whole thing is no good. But I keep telling myself, "Just finish. You can go back and edit, make it shine. Just get the words on the screen and then you have more to work with than simply what's in your head." Great reminders, Ash!

Anonymous said...

Great post! I've had the same trouble with overly harsh criticism recently. Luckily I had a few short stories accepted for publication so that put me back on track.

Ashley Clark said...

You're so sweet, Amy! I know just how you feel! I think, though, sometimes the best stories come from a place that is difficult for us, so keep on keeping on!

Ashley Clark said...

Thank you, Jeanne! It's so refreshing for us to sit back and remember our characters' hearts. Hope you have a good weekend!

Ashley Clark said...

Thanks for sharing, Becky! I know what you mean. Sometimes I get all too worried about the details and forget the big picture of the story. Bit when I think about my own favorite stories, some of them have too many exclamation marks, typos and "telling," but when it comes down to it, they draw me into the story and make me feel what the characters feel... And that makes the world of difference for me.

Ashley Clark said...

Thanks Linds!

Ashley Clark said...

That's awesome, Freya! Congratulations!